Europe is to have a new Battery Alliance. It emerged last month from a high-level meeting on battery development and production in Europe organised by European Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovic.
Executives of German chemical group BASF, car makers Renault, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and BMW and engineering firm Siemens were among the major companies invited to the meeting. French Battery manufacturer Saft, was also present.
The Commission’s objective is to develop an Airbus-style consortium for battery production in Europe, and help Europe become leader in energy storage.
The creation of Airbus in the 1960s, as a state-sponsored initiative between France, the UK and Germany, has had a major impact on the aeronautics industry in Europe. The company is now, with Boeing, one of the two leading global aerospace manufacturers.
Europe is lagging behind and there is a lack of European cell manufacturing, as car makers in Europe only assemble battery packs for electric cars leaving Asian companies mostly to supply them with battery cells.
EU stakeholders are keen to reduce their dependence on Asian technology. The leaders of the sector are Panasonic and NEC in Japan, Korea’s LG and Samsung and China’s BYD and CATL.
The Commission is expecting an explosion of demand for electric batteries in the coming years, not only for cars but also for household appliances and connected devices. European car manufacturers have also increased their projections for electric cars sales ahead of stricter EU and national emissions rules.
The Commission’s objective is to develop an Airbus-style consortium for battery production in Europe
State Secretary Matthias Machnig from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy was present at the meeting, and said he believes that ‘boosting manufacturing capacities for battery cells and setting up battery cell manufacturing plants in Germany and Europe is important in terms of economic and industrial policy’.
He added that ‘battery cell technology is a crucial competitive factor in the field of electric mobility’.
Strategic Plan for 2018
The announcement will be followed with a roadmap that will be presented at the EU’s Clean Energy Industrial Forum in February 2018.
The EU could support the initiative with up to €2.2 billion, according to the Financial Times. This could finance the construction of a massive battery factory to supply Europe’s carmakers. Indeed, storage technologies are expected to form a vital pillar of Europe’s efforts towards decarbonization.
EUROBAT, the organisation that represents European Automotive and Industrial Battery Manufacturers, welcomed the European Commission initiative, and called for a coherent regulatory framework to be developed.
Battery waste problem
With the momentum growing from electric vehicle sales there is an unanswered environmental question around what to do with batteries when they wear out.
At the moment in the EU only a small proportion of lithium-ion batteries are recycled, and this has an environmental cost. However, they are mostly present in smartphones for now, and EU Regulations such as the Batteries Directive require the makers of batteries to finance the costs of collecting, treating and recycling all collected batteries.
The challenge will therefore be to design batteries that will be standardised and designed for recycling. That’s how Europe will bridge the recycling gap, and make its energy transition a success.